It by no means applies to all migrants we talk to at TWC2, but anger simmers very close to the surface in some of the men we encounter. Not all. Most are unbelievably patient and humble while waiting for the slow, ponderous wheels of bureaucracy to turn.
But Akkabar isn’t one of those men. I have met him three times now to talk about his case and on two occasions he stormed out of the meeting.
Akkabr is furious. He doesn’t want help. He just wants his money back.
“I don’t need any help from other people. I’ve been here for three years on my own – I buy my own food, I survive on my own,” he tells me. “I have been here for a long time… and I’ve spent a lot of my money.”
Akkabar says he is owed $22,000 – that is the sum that has been amassed since his workplace injury three years ago. He was assessed at 10% of total permanent incapacity in 2010 by the Ministry of Manpower (MOM) and he’s been waiting for compensation more than two years and nine months since the injury.
The company that employed Akkabar went bankrupt some months after his accident. The company has no work of its own for their workers, but supplies them to other companies. Akabbar was sent to several cleaning companies.
Akabbar paid $8,000 for the job in 2001, and paid $3,000 for Work Permit renewal three times since.
After the accident, Akabbar paid more than $3,000 of his own money for medical expenses. The employer has paid nothing for his medical leave (required by law) or medical expenses. His family in Bangladesh has sent him about $2,200 to cover his expenses, and the rest is paid by his brother who works here. He still has problems with his back and leg.
Although Akkabar has been working in Singapore since 2001, until a few years ago he never saw first-hand how unfair the system can be to foreign workers.
MOM has arranged more than 10 meetings but the employer failed to appear. MOM advised Akkabar to try the subordinate court for enforcement.
In correspondence with TWC2, a spokesman for MOM said: “We note that the worker’s claim has been delayed partly due to his numerous follow-up appointments and subsequent medical assessment.
“Notwithstanding the above, his case was further complicated with a bankrupted employer with no WIC [Work injury compensation] insurance coverage, for which he will be taken to task accordingly.
“We have also tried to assist the worker in securing some settlement through several meetings with the employer in which we understand that his lawyer had now enforced the Court Order at the sub-court.”
But the sub court costs money. Akkabar has paid more than $600 to the sub court and $300 for legal representation, without any success.
“MOM say they’re investigating the case, but I’m not seeing my money,” he says.
The delays and the stalling mean Akkabar continues to live in Singapore without being able to work. He has looked for employment. At one point he was found working as a cleaner at an HDB block in Clementi, but that resulted in a letter from Kim Seng threatening him with fines and/or prison if he is found working again.
MOM does say that they have assisted Akkabar “on some form of ex-gratia payment, in which we will inform him on the collection once it is ready”. That ex-gratia payment is just $1000, which he can’t bring himself to accept as it signals the closure of his case.
Unable to work, he has been living in Little India for three years, living on borrowed money and borrowed time.
Akkabar’s anger is not something we often see here, but there is an anger which all of these men feel to some degree or another, and usually it resides just below the surface.
In Akkabar, it is boiling over. In our third meeting he tells me that, following his “ex-gratia” payment the MOM has instructed him to go.
He is keen to make a last stand, but the odds are stacked heavily against him.